Saturday, July 25, 2015

Review: The Lost Garden


The Lost Garden
By Katharine Swartz
Kregel/Lion Hudson, 2015


Summary

Present and past residents of a countryside English vicarage search for love

Marin Ellis is in search of a new start after her father and his second wife die in a car accident leaving her the guardian of her fifteen-year-old half-sister, Rebecca. They choose the picturesque village of Goswell on the Cumbrian coast and settle into Bower House, the former vicarage, on the edge of the church property. When a door to a walled garden captures Rebecca's interest, Marin becomes determined to open it and discover what is hidden beneath the bramble inside. She enlists the help of local gardener Joss Fowler, and together the three of them begin to uncover the garden's secrets.

In 1919, nineteen-year-old Eleanor Sanderson, daughter of Goswell's vicar, is grieving the loss of her beloved brother Walter, who was killed just days before the Armistice was signed. Eleanor retreats into herself and her father starts to notice how unhappy she is. As spring arrives, he decides to hire someone to make a garden for Eleanor, and draw her out of--or at least distract her from--her grief and sorrow. Jack Taylor is in his early twenties, a Yorkshire man who has been doing odd jobs in the village, and when Eleanor's father hires him to work on the vicarage gardens, a surprising--and unsuitable--friendship unfolds.

Deftly weaving the dual narratives, Katharine Swartz explores themes of loyalty and love through her memorable characters and strong sense of place.


My thoughts

The Lost Garden by Katharine Swartz is a moving story with beautiful prose, rich characterization, and an atmospheric quality - simply my kind of relationship drama. This is an emotional story involving two sets of sisters - Marin and Rebecca in contemporary times, and Eleanor and Katherine almost 100 years earlier - both occupying the same plot of land and both dealing with grief. Every chapter alternates between Marin and Eleanor's voice, in a way that was never confusing, and I was equally invested in both stories, loving the way they connected.

This is a character-driven story, and readers won't find fast-paced action or passionate chemistry between the characters, yet the emotions simmer beneath the surface. Foundations are laid during the first several chapters, with the pace picking up and building to a powerful and beautiful ending. Thanks to Katharine's quality writing, I was caught up in the vividly-conveyed Cumbria setting, which felt like a major character, and given much cause for reflection.

Beginning shortly after the signing of the Armistice in 1918, Eleanor's story was especially compelling as she faced the effects of war - from the death of a loved one to the inexplicable changes in those who returned . . . "The men who did come back were not the same as those who had left. . . . These men were gaunt, hollow-eyed strangers; some of them missing limbs, others blind or scarred. And even the ones with no visible wounds at all still seemed different - somehow less."

When it comes to drama, there's just something special about British characters and settings. It was easy for me to connect with these characters as they struggled with loss and not knowing how to just "be." The Lost Garden is real and honest, but not depressing, and spiritual themes are woven throughout. I hope to read more books by Katharine Swartz. Highly recommended to those who enjoy relational drama with rich characterization.

See more at:  http://www.kregel.com/fiction/the-lost-garden/

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After spending three years as a diehard New Yorker, Katharine Swartz now lives in the Lake District with her husband, an Anglican minister, their five children, and a Golden Retriever. She enjoys such novel things as long country walks and chatting with people in the street, and her children love the freedom of village life--although she often has to ring four or five people to figure out where they've gone off to!

In addition to writing women's fiction, she writes contemporary romance for Mills & Boon Modern under the name Kate Hewitt. Whatever the genre, she enjoys delivering a compelling and intensely emotional story.

Find Katharine online at kate-hewitt.com, Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

Thank you to Kregel Publications for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Review + GIVEAWAY: The Curiosity Keeper


The Curiosity Keeper
By Sarah E. Ladd
Treasures of Surrey, #1
Thomas Nelson, 2015


Summary

“It is not just a ruby, as you say. It is large as a quail’s egg, still untouched and unpolished. And it is rumored to either bless or curse whoever possesses it.”

Camille Iverness can take care of herself. She’s done so since the day her mother abandoned the family and left Camille to run their shabby curiosity shop. But when a violent betrayal leaves her injured with no place to hide, Camille must allow a mysterious stranger to come to her aid.

Jonathan Gilchrist never wanted to inherit Kettering Hall. As a second son, he was content to work as the village apothecary. But when his brother’s death made him heir just as his father’s foolish decisions put the estate at risk, only the sale of a priceless possession—a ruby called the Bevoy—can save the family from ruin. But the gem has disappeared. And all trails lead to Iverness Curiosity Shop—and the beautiful shop girl who may be the answer to his many questions.

Caught at the intersection of blessings and curses, greed and deceit, these two determined souls must unite to protect what they hold dear. But when a passion that shines far brighter than any gem is ignited, they will have to decide how much they are willing to risk for their future, love, and happiness.


My thoughts

The Curiosity Keeper is a good beginning to Sarah Ladd's new series, Treasures of Surrey. Set in 1812 England, it opens in the Iverness Curiosity Shop in London, then moves to the beautiful rural community of Fellsworth. Regencies are a favorite genre of mine and Sarah did an excellent job at conveying a sense of place. There's action, drama, mystery, romance, and a sweet ending.

Jonathan and Camille seemed like a good fit for each other and I really liked them both, but although there was a good bit of character depth, I was never able to connect as deeply with them as I had hoped and I'm not sure why. Maybe because I longed for more scenes with interaction between them, for I didn't feel a part of their developing romance. However, this is still an excellent story and it was fun to watch Camille use her strength and self-reliance skills to take care of herself at a time when women didn't have many opportunities. 

The mystery element was done well, because even though I suspected who one of the bad guys might be and was proven right, there was a twist that I never saw coming. And one of my favorite parts was the growing friendship and respect between Camille and Jonathan's father, Ian.

I love the way The Curiosity Keeper shows a contrast between the upper and working classes, and between the wealthy estates and unsavory areas of London - and while a lot of Regencies focus on high society, Jonathan and Camille use their medical and teaching skills respectively to help others. Spiritual themes are subtle, but always shining through is the idea that God is faithful to bring about good from the not-so-good circumstances in our lives - and that's something to which readers can relate.

The Curiosity Keeper was an enjoyable read overall and I look forward to more stories in this series. Recommended to fans of historical romance.


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Sarah E. Ladd received the 2011 Genesis Award in historical romance for “The Heiress of Winterwood.” She is a graduate of Ball State University and has more than ten years of marketing experience. Sarah lives in Indiana with her amazing husband, sweet daughter, and spunky Golden Retriever.

Find Sarah online at sarahladd.com, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Goodreads.

Thank you to Litfuse Publicity for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.


Litfuse landing page:

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GIVEAWAY

To enter the drawing for The Curiosity Keeper . . .

1) If you're on Facebook, please go to Sarah Ladd giveaway and share about this giveaway ("likes" to my FB page are not required, but very much appreciated)

2) Answer the following question:


Do you have a favorite Sarah Ladd book or another
Regency author/title that you would recommend?

BE SURE to leave your name and your email address in a safe format - [at] and [dot] - for the drawing. E-mail required for entry. Contest ends at midnight PST on Sunday, August 2. Winner will be chosen by Random.org and contacted by e-mail.

Eligibility: US residents

Blog linkups:
Literacy Musing Mondays

Monday, July 20, 2015

Review: Thriving in Babylon


Thriving in Babylon
By Larry Osborne
David C. Cook, 2015


Summary

Meet a man forced to live in a fast changing and godless society. He faced fears about the future, concern for his safety, and the discouragement of world that seemed to be falling apart at warp speed.

Sound familiar? His name was Daniel, and with the power of hope, humility, and wisdom, he not only thrived, he changed an empire while he was at it. Though he lived thousands of years ago, he has a much to teach us today.

Even in Babylon, God is in control.

In Thriving in Babylon, Larry Osborne explores the “adult” story of Daniel to help us not only survive – but actually thrive in an increasingly godless culture.


My thoughts

Thriving in Babylon is a book that I believe any Christian would benefit from reading. Looking into how Daniel "thrived" in Babylon seems to be popular in light of all that has happened in America over the last few years, as this is the second excellent book I've read lately. Timely, well written and researched, Thriving in Babylon has a message that we need to hear. It's upbeat, informative, and full of the hope/confidence that comes from being reminded of God's promises because, while we don't understand all that's happening at the time, we know how the story ends.

I love Larry Osborne's writing style that flows so easily across the page. The depth is there, thorough and well thought out, but laced with humor and written just like he's sitting across from you. This is an excellent book not only for personal use, but one from which pastors would benefit in their study.

Larry Osborne's focus is not just on our desire to be influential in a world steadily growing less tolerant of Christian values, but how to be influential in today's culture - and his answers just might be totally different than what you would expect. The book of Daniel specifically has a lot of application for today's ungodly climate because Daniel lived in a pagan culture without compromising his beliefs and he was respected as a result.

There is so much that I have already taken away from this book, even changed my thinking in many ways, and now I'm eager to go back and delve much deeper in this book. There are so many great quotes that I could share, but I'll just end with this one . . .

"If we claim to be followers of Jesus, there's never
a good reason for panic. God loves a mess.
After all, it takes a mess to have a miracle."

 Thriving in Babylon is an important book for believers and I highly recommend it.

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Dr. Larry Osborne has served as a senior pastor and teaching pastor at North Coast Church—one of the ten most influential churches in the country—since 1980. Dr. Osborne is the author of numerous books, including "Accidental Pharisees." He and his wife live in Oceanside, California. They have three grown children.

Find Larry online at larryosbornelive.com, Facebook, and Twitter.

Thank you to Litfuse Publicity for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Litfuse landing page:

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Laurie Coombs’ ‘Letters from My Father’s Murderer’ Kindle Fire Giveaway


Can God heal the deepest wounds and redeem what seems unredeemable? Laurie Coombs experiences God's transforming and redemptive power in her new book, Letters from My Father's Murderer. When her father was murdered, Laurie Coombs and her family sought justice―and found it. Yet, despite the swift punishment of the killer, Laurie found herself increasingly full of pain, bitterness, and anger she couldn’t control. It was the call to love and forgive her father’s murderer that set her, the murderer, and several other inmates on the journey that would truly change their lives forever.

Join Laurie in celebrating the release of Letters from My Father's Murderer by entering to win a Kindle Fire!


letter from father's murderer - 400


One grand prize winner will receive:
  • A Kindle Fire HD 6
  • A copy of Letters from My Father's Murderer

Enter today by clicking the icon below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on July 20th. The winner will be announced July 21st on Laurie's site.


letter from father's murderer - enter banner

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Review: Gone without a Trace


Gone without a Trace
By Patricia Bradley
Logan Point, #3
Revell, 2015


Summary

The past is repeating itself--and time is running out

It's been more than two years since homicide detective Livy Reynolds's cousin disappeared from Logan Point. Unlike most people in her hometown, Livy has never believed that Robyn left voluntarily. When Dallas private investigator Alex Jennings contacts her concerning a senator's missing granddaughter who was last seen in Logan Point, Livy notices eerie similarities between the two disappearances. With self-doubt plaguing her and an almost instant dislike of the self-assured PI, she's finding this investigation an uphill battle. But with the prospect of finding her cousin on the horizon, she'll have to find a way to work with Alex--before it's too late.

Award-winning author Patricia Bradley keeps you on the edge of your seat with a case--and a relationship--that is anything but certain.


My thoughts

Although not naturally a fan of suspense, I am seemingly addicted to Patricia Bradley's novels. It was probably the appeal of a southern setting that initially drew me to Shadows of the Past, book #1 in the Logan Point series, and I quickly realized Patricia was an author I wanted to follow. Gone without a Trace is book #3 - and while series characters make appearances and a previously-introduced mystery thread is solved, this book can stand alone.

Gone without a Trace moves at a pretty fast pace and kept me guessing as to the villain's identity, although I read more for enjoyment of plot and characterization than trying to figure out whodunit.  I did love all the various twists and surprises, though! Without being too scary for me, the story combines elements of mystery, intrigue, tension, and sweet romance along with the spiritual insight that I appreciate in Christian fiction. The blend between suspense and romance was perfect, and I especially appreciated how the chemistry between Alex and Livy seemed natural and easy, rather than being overblown like I've occasionally seen in other romantic suspense novels.

The story is set in Memphis and its surrounding areas - specifically Logan Point, Mississippi, with its lovely lake views and small-town feel. I have to smile when I think of how many mystery series have idyllic, small-town settings and are then populated with one grisly murder after another - but this makes for great reading and Patricia does it extremely well. I actually fought the urge to read fast in order to prolong my time with these enjoyable characters.

I think depth of characterization is one reason why I enjoy Patricia's writing so much, for her strong characters, with their complex emotions, concerns and troubled pasts, are always three-dimensional - even the villain, as we're made privy to his background and motives. Alex, a PI whose investigation brings him to Logan Point, tends to struggle with following through on some issues as he fights against his grandfather's wish that he take the bar exam. Detective work consumes Livy and she can't imagine what life would be without it, yet she finds herself held hostage by the guilt of past events and her ability to react under the stress of the moment called into question by both her superiors and partner.

I also came to care about Robyn and Chase, two secondary characters who are featured in strong roles, and was eager to see how their story played out. Good writing spotlights characters that grow, and Robyn exemplifies that beautifully as a woman who finds the courage to face her fears and help in a police investigation. Glimpses of God's grace are seen in the godly mother who prayed faithfully without giving up hope, and also a husband's realization that he just might have contributed to previous marital problems.


"Do you read your Bible because you want to or so you can
mark it off a list? . . . I always thought it was about a
relationship, not about doing things or following rules."
- Alex to Livy

I loved those words because they speak to the matter of relationship and trust when it comes to theological questions that have been debated since the beginning of time. Livy had always thought that if she did her part by following the rules, then God would do His part in turn, but then came the questions that surely all of us have asked at one time or another:  Where was God when . . .? Questions and doubt must eventually give way to trust, as Patricia beautifully conveys through these characters.


Gone without a Trace comes to a very satisfying conclusion, but I look forward to more when it comes to the romance between Alex and Livy, as well as returning to Logan Point and these characters. Book #4, Silence in the Dark, releases in April 2016 and I believe this will be Bailey's story. Can't wait!

Patricia Bradley writes my kind of suspense. I highly recommend Gone without a Trace, as well as the whole Logan Point series.

Please click on titles to see my review of the previous two books:
Shadows of the Past, #1
A Promise to Protect, #2


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Patricia Bradley is the winner of a 2012 Daphne du Maurier Award and a 2012 Touched by Love Award and was also a finalist for the 2012 Genesis Award. The author of Shadows of the Past and A Promise to Protect, she is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers and Romance Writers of America. Bradley makes her home in Mississippi.

Connect with Patricia online at ptbradley.com, Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

Thank you to Revell for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Interview + GIVEAWAY: Cynthia Ruchti


As Waters Gone By by Cynthia Ruchti (click title to see my review) is one of the most beautiful, memorable books I've read and I don't think my words of praise could ever do it justice.

As I said in my review, this is why I read Christian fiction, and As Waters Gone By is on my "best of the best" list. Please check out my review and then consider finding a copy to read if you haven't already.

Many thanks to Cynthia Ruchti and Litfuse Publicity for putting together this interview and offering the giveaway. Now enjoy all that Cynthia has to share with us . . .


Q: In a few sentences, tell us about As Waters Gone By and your inspiration for the book.

        As Waters Gone By is the story of a woman struggling to figure out what happens to a marriage when the distance they face isn’t miles only, but concrete walls and razor wire. Emmalyn and Max’s marriage was given a court-mandated five-year time-out when Max’s actions sent him to prison and put an end to Emmalyn’s hopes for motherhood. On a self-imposed exile to beautiful but remote Madeline Island in Lake Superior, Emmalyn has only a few months left to figure out if and how she and Max can ever be a couple again.
        When writing As Waters Gone By, I quickly saw the connections for those whose spouses are deployed or gone for long stretches because of their jobs. How do you make a home when your mate is never home?
        Our family has been plunged into some of the chapters in As Waters Gone By. My brother-in-law is currently incarcerated several states away. I’m watching my sister react to the situation with such grace, and the remarkable strengthening of their marriage and their faith despite the grave disappointments and uncrossable distance. Their marriage has been an inspiration to others who make the natural assumption that time behind bars is an automatic death knell for a marriage. It doesn’t have to be. Through this novel’s characters—whose story is much different than the one my sister and her husband are living—I wanted to communicate the Hope I’ve personally witnessed, and the grace that can transform a long distance relationship from unraveled to hemmed in that Hope.



Q: You aren’t afraid to take on difficult subjects in your stories. As Waters Gone By deals with serious life issues such as infertility, broken marriages and even the incarceration of a spouse. Why do you take on these heavy-hitting topics?

It would be far easier to pretend these issues don’t affect us or to write about the most popular topic of the day. Instead, I feel most drawn to the stories that rattle us to our core but offer unshakable hope. My books are an emotional journey for the characters and usually prove to be the same for readers too. And yet, there are moments of humor and tenderness in the stories because those elements also show up in our life crises. I pray readers find themselves identifying with the characters and their faith struggles as well as their conflicts. And if they don’t identify with the circumstances, I pray they’ll empathize. My hope is that their compassion for those who do face stories like Emmalyn’s will grow, that books like As Waters Gone By will touch readers at a soul-deep level. While answering these questions, I heard from a reader who gave me the greatest compliment by saying that I have such a way with broken characters that she has a hard time leaving them behind.


Q: Do you think a marriage can survive any kind of trial?

        It’s not easy. I watch as my sister and brother-in-law grow their marriage during his incarceration. They’re intentional about seeking God’s help, about beating the odds, about doing what it takes to invest in their marriage at a time in life when the natural thing would be to walk away. They’ve become living examples that even prison bars don’t have to spell the end of a marriage. And they’re helping convince other couples of the same truth. Emmalyn and Max did almost everything wrong when faced with that forced separation. And still, hope fought its way to the surface.
        This is a theme that found expression in my first novel, too—They Almost Always Come Home. In that story, the husband and wife grieved in completely different ways, and it almost spelled the end for them as a couple. I think where we lose our way when faced with what we feel is an unbearable situation is in giving up because it’s easier to give up, or calling it quits because it’s the expected thing to do, or pulling away from each other because of the crisis rather than leaning INTO each other.


Q: How can families come together during a tragedy rather than letting it drive them apart?

        Some families might find that natural. Their individual personalities make linking arms and hearts at a time like that seem the obvious choice. But others—especially those who’ve been bombarded with a history of tragedies or shredded by past relationship distresses—might find they have to work at it, seek outside counseling, take determined steps toward each other rather than away.
        When Emmalyn and Max in As Waters Gone By began talking—really talking—and watching out for the other’s best interests, when they sought outside help, and subconsciously renewed their commitment to the marriage is when change started to happen and hope was reborn.



Q: How can unmet expectations drive a wedge between us and God?

        Unmet expectations can become a wedge in any relationship. Parent/child. Marriage. Friendship. When life doesn’t turn out like we thought it would, our natural inclination is to look for someone to blame. Max made an easy target for Emmalyn’s blame-fixing. She might not have admitted to herself that she also blamed God — for not preventing what happened, for not answering her prayers, for seemingly abandoning her. How many people would tell the same story: that unmet expectations escalated to blame-fixing and bitterness and ultimately to emotional distance from those they love? When Emmalyn learns how to guard her heart against the effects of unmet expectations, she can finally start to gain her footing.
        One of the significant subplots in As Waters Gone By is the undercurrent of acceptance and mending that is rooted in the Wild Iris Inn and Café. It’s a location that represents an attitude—taking people as they are—unmet expectations and all, understanding the pain that lies behind unwise choices and the power the lies in second chances. The owner of the café lives an outrageous example of love and acceptance that becomes contagious within the community and for Emmalyn. And for me.


Q: In what way is the setting of Madeline Island, Wisconsin—and the timeline of late autumn and winter—key to the story?

I live in the Northwoods, about 200 miles south of Emmalyn’s Madeline Island. So I understand the starkness winter often represents--  the loneliness that winter’s bitter cold exaggerates. The sense of imprisonment Emmalyn would have felt when the island’s ferry stopped running and she was cut off from the rest of the world, just as Max had been. I think as the island changes from a tourist destination to the quieter season when the island’s residents began to hunker down for winter, Emmalyn felt Max’s isolation on a soul-deep level. She hadn’t felt a soul-deep connection to anything with Max for too long. Symbolically, the seasons had a voice in her healing.


Q: You chose to use several instances of symbolism in As Waters Gone By. What was the most meaningful piece of symbolism for you?

I’m not alone in being mesmerized by waves on what we sometimes call “big water” — oceans, inland seas like Lake Superior, large lakes. The rhythm of the waves, the realization that they have their source far beyond the shore, their consistency yet uniqueness, the treasures they carry to shore and debris they carry out to sea. . . . The premise of As Waters Gone By was birthed from a single verse of Scripture I must have tripped past dozens of times throughout the years. Now that I’ve seen it — really seen it — it won’t let me go. It’s Job 11:16, and it helps explain why waves represented hope to Emmalyn, why they represent hope to me. It reads, "You will surely forget your trouble, recalling it only as waters gone by." (NIV)


Q: What do you hope readers learn about the evolution of personal faith by reading As Waters Gone By?

        I think one of the smartest things Emmalyn did — despite her long line of less-than-wise decisions — was to allow herself to be real with the God who knew what was going on inside of her all along. She risked trusting again.
        Faith is always a risk. And always a risk worth taking. So is love.

To keep up with Cynthia Ruchti, visit www.cynthiaruchti.com. You can also become a fan on Facebook (CynthiaRuchtiReaderPage) or follow her on Twitter (@cynthiaruchti).


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GIVEAWAY

To enter the drawing for As Waters Gone By . . .

1) If you're on Facebook, please go to my As Waters Gone By post and share about this giveaway. ("Likes" to my page are also greatly appreciated!)

2) Answer the following question:


Has Christian fiction in general or a particular book
ever helped you deal with a real-life situation?

BE SURE to leave your name and your email address in a safe format - [at] and [dot] - for the drawing. E-mail required for entry. Contest ends at midnight PST on Tuesday, July 28. Winner will be chosen by Random.org and contacted by e-mail.

Eligibility: US residents